Late February brought record temperatures across the UK and France and the Mont Blanc region was no exception. Putting comments about global warming aside, it meant we had a good opportunity to work on our winter tans and enjoy four ski tours in ‘spring’ conditions. The tours took us away from the crowded pistes and into the tranquil and beautiful mountains surrounding the Mont Blanc massif. None were particularly taxing or scary, so I think they are about as mellow as ski touring can be.
Croisse Baulet (2236m)
This tour is accessed from Megève, parking at the bottom of the Le Jaillet lift. (Note to anyone who goes there, you have to pay for the parking or you get an unpleasant surprise when you return to your car… as we did.)
The tour stated from the top of the Pres lift, where this picture was taken. The Petit Croisse Baulet and the Croisse Baulet are in the middle and right hand side of the skyline respectively. A short descent down the Jorace piste led to the start of the skin up the Petit Croisse Baulet.
Rupert reaching the top of the Croisse Baulet. Mont Blanc is in the background.
Henry and Rupert on the summit with the Col des Aravis (for any cyclists reading) in the middle of the photo.
Good spring snow on the south slopes of the Petit Croisse Baulet.
Henry enjoying the descent.
A good view of our descent route. The Croisse Baulet is two-thirds of the way along the skyline. We skied towards the lower peak on the right (the Petit Croisse Baulet) and from there diagonally through the trees and past the grass to eventually finish in the shaded valley… which we followed to Le Plan where we had lunch (and linked up again with the Megeve lift system). Our total ascent for the day was about 700m.
Brèche de Bérard (c.2600m)
This is a variant on the popular tour over the Col des Aiguilles Crochues and the Col de Bérard. It’s accessed from the top of the Floria lift in the Flegère ski area. We did this tour with Ben Tibbetts, a guide, photographer extraordinaire (see Ben Tibbetts Photography) and member of the British Ski Mountaineering team because we were hoping he would pass on some of his knowledge and experience of ski-mo racing… which he did (to be covered in another post).
Ben realised he had a serious coaching challenge on his hands as Henry and I faffed our way up to the Col des Aiguilles Crochues: Henry’s skins fell off multiple times (our rental skis had silicone skins which had to be completely dry to stick on the skis); and I lost traction on the icy skin track (for practice we weren’t using couteau) and slid back down the way we had come… twice!
Henry and I were using the lightest skis and boots we could find for rental in Chamonix. The Black Crows Vastus skis were excellent but the boots, Atomic Backlands, felt soft; however unless one is willing to pay big bucks for carbon fibre boots there is always going to be a trade off between weight and stiffness.
Just reaching the end of the climb up to the Col des Aiguilles Crochues. Spring conditions meant it was sweaty work.
After traversing from the Col des Aiguilles Crochues as if we were going over the Col de Bérard, the route to the brèche climbed onto the ridge opposite (where this picture of Henry and Ben was taken) before a rising traverse to the brèche itself. (The featured image for this post was taken from the brèche and shows that traverse.)
Looking through the brèche (which was like a keyhole in the ridge) into the Vallon de Bérard.
Once we had descended into the valley we skinned back up to the Col de Bérard before a final ski back down into and out of the valley. By the time we got up to col there was hardly anyone around which made a pleasant change from normal. Our total ascent for the day was about 1000m.
Col de Bérard (2460m)
Two days later I was below the Col de Aiguilles Crochues again with Steph, this time to approach the Col de Bérard directly.
Putting the skins on by the piste at the top of the Floria lift.
Steph about to reach the Col des Aiguilles Crochues.
Looking from the Col de Bérard back down the way we had come. The traverse around from the Col des Aiguilles Crochues brings you out on the snowy ridge, where the skinning tracks in this picture originate.
And looking the other way at our descent into the Vallon de Bérard.
Towards the bottom of the valley the skiing becomes quite tricky with some narrow luge tracks through the forest. Steph is just emerging from one such section in this photo.
The end of the valley opens out at Le Buet. There was time for a beer before catching the train back to Chamonix. The total ascent for this tour was c.400m.
Col de la Cicle (2377m)
The following day, Steph and I teamed up with her friend Paul and his friend Yvonne. Paul lives in Chamonix and knew the route we were planning to take well. The starting point was the top of the Bûchee Croisêe lift in the Les Contamines ski area. A short descent led to a long gradual ascent to approach the col from the west.
The snow was already wet as we skinned up the rising traverse to the col.
Luckily the most dangerous area (facing south-west) appeared to have already slid. Having said that I was glad we weren’t crossing it in the late afternoon.
Paul, Yvonne and Steph on the col with Mont Blanc in the background (above Paul).
Looking back up to the col (which is behind the buttresses above Paul) after an enjoyable ski, first on chalky snow and then on transformed spring snow. From here we had a scenic descent down the valley back to the bottom of the main Contamines gondola. Total ascent to the col was c.350m.